UPDATE ON BEATRICE BELEN: INDIGENOUS WOMAN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER UNDER ATTACK
Who is Beatrice Belen?
Beatrice Belen or Betty is a mother of four children, and a doting grandmother to her grandchildren. Her husband shares her advocacies and struggles.
She is an activist—an indigenous woman human rights defender of the Uma tribe who speaks out against the militarization in her community, who defends her ili from destructive projects such as the ongoing geothermal application of American energy company Chevron that is bound to affect her community.
She is a Community Health Worker who advocates for the much needed health services in the rural areas and the need for the improvement of the health care system, especially for indigenous peoples who have experienced the government’s neglect and abandonment of the provision of health services.
She is currently recognized as a member of the advisory council of Innabuyog-Gabriela Kalinga chapter and also served as the former Vice Chairperson of the regional formation of Innabuyog-Gabriela.
She is an active member of the Anglican Church in Kalinga and lives her faith through her service to the people.
Why is she in jail?
Betty Belen is facing trumped-up complaints of illegal possession of explosives upon false allegations of State security forces that three rifle grenades were found at the back of her house last October 25, 2020 during an unlawful search that caused her arrest.
On October 25, 2020, fully-armed combined elements of the CIDG RFU2 Santiago City Field Unit, CIDG Isabela Provincial Field Unit, CIDG Kalinga Provincial Field Unit, 503rd IB, Philippine Army, Kalinga Police Provincial Office, 51st Division Recon Company, Philippine Army, Military Intelligence Group (MIG2), 14th SAB-Special Action Force, PRO-COR Mobile Force Battalion, Kalinga Mobile Force Company, Naval Intelligence Unity (NISU2), 53rd Military Intelligence Company and the Lubuagan Municipal Police Station served search warrants for 13 people in Lower and Western Uma, Lubuagan, Kalinga. The search warrants were applied for by PLTCol Julius Jacinto, PO, CIDG Isabela PFU and signed by Tabuk City Kalinga Regional Trial Court Branch 25 Presiding Judge Jerson Eckman Angog.
Among those with search warrants for their homes was Beatrice ‘Betty’ Belen, leader of Innabuyog-Gabriela. The search warrant applied for by Jacinto claimed that Belen had with her an M16 rifle and ammunitions within her house.
At around 4 am, the operating troops of about 40 to 50 men and two women surrounded and took effective control of the area where Belen’s house was. Betty Belen, her husband and grandchildren and their relatives Amelia Belen and her son Valen and Lourdes Aminyo were led outside the house and cordoned at the receiving area of the kitchen while the troops moved about within their premises. At that point, there was only an announcement of a search. They only declared the search official at around 7 am when the required witnesses from the barangay came. John Lagasca, the barangay Indigenous People Mandatory Representative and Kagawad Jess Lapid were fetched from their homes by troops from the Philippine Army.
The troops sifted through sacks, bags and boxes as well as clothing and beddings inside Belen’s house and found no M16 Armalite rifle or any ammunition for the same firearm as alleged to be within their house and premises. After their search, Belen begged to stay inside to fix the things inside their house, but she was ordered to go out of the house. Betty went to the area where the rest of her family was cordoned and conversed with Brgy. Kag. Jess Lapid in the presence of her sister-in-law Lourdes Aminyo and had the impression that the search was already finished.
After a few minutes, one of the female CIDG personnel called for Betty Belen to inspect what they were able to allegedly find outside the Belen residence, without her and Kagawad Lapid’s presence. PMSg Solomon Pao-Iton and the officers alleged that they were able to discover a yellow bag containing rifle grenades pinned in some stones by the big stone at the back of the house. The place where the bag was found was a place where they would urinate and is usually wet or damp. They noticed that the bags that the search team claimed to have found were dry even when the monsoon rains were heavy and when they remembered to have urinated in that spot the night before.
Betty Belen lost no time to vehemently object to the alleged search and seizure of the bag with the rifle grenades outside their house and told the officers that she knew nothing of these. The people in the area heard her saying “Awan ammok dita! Ammoti Diyos nu siasinno ti nagipan dita!” (I have no knowledge of those! God knows who are responsible for bringing those here!)
After the announcement that three rifle grenades were found, Betty Belen and the two witnesses from the barangay were coerced to sign that the search done was orderly. Belen was further coerced to sign a document to admit possession of the rifle grenades. The contents of both documents were not explained to them and they were made to sign while around 40 to 50 fully armed operating troops from the CIDG, PNP and AFP were present.
Betty Belen was then arrested after and brought to the Tabuk City Jail. She was accompanied by some of her relatives and a barangay official. During the first night of her detention, she was made to share a facility with male inmates. Upon assertion for a separate facility with her lawyer, an arrangement was done inside the Tabuk City Jail to hold her in a separate cell the following day.
What is the status of her case?
On October 26, she was supposed to be brought for inquest for charges of illegal possession of explosives but with her lawyer’s intervention at the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, a motion for preliminary investigation was instead filed.
She and her lawyer agreed to waive her right based on Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code that states charges against a detained individual must be filed within 36 hours of detention. This is while an investigation to determine if truly a crime was committed is established. She is set to file her counter-affidavit this week. As the allegations against her fall under non-bailable crimes, she could not file for bail at this stage.
The legal actions currently being undertaken are with the intent to have the case dismissed at the Prosecutor’s level given that the search was unlawful and the so-called evidence were planted and fabricated.
Why is she a victim of political persecution?
Prior to her arrest and incarceration, she has been subjected to harassments and intimidation like red-tagging and political vilification by State security forces and agents especially since 2015 linking her to the New Peoples Army (NPA). These attacks against her and her community were in response to their critical position on human rights violations, militarization and development aggression in their community, especially with the implementation of the Philippine government’s Oplan Kapayapaan and Oplan Kapanatagan.
The unlawful search, and trumped up allegations against her are part of the political persecution against legitimate dissent and against activist organizations like Innabuyog-Gabriela and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and human rights defenders.
How can you help?
Write letters of concern on Beatrice Belen’s case to the Commission on Human Rights to call for an independent and impartial investigation and monitoring. Kindly address it to the following officials
Honorable Jose Luis Martin Gascon
Commission on Human Rights
Honorable Karen Lucia S. Gomez-Dumpit
Focal Commissioner on Gender Equality and LGBTQI Human Rights
Commission on Human Rights
Atty. Rommel Daguimol
Commission on Human Rights, Cordillera Administrative Region
Issue statements of solidarity for circulation to the public and media circles and posting in websites and social media platforms. Please send a copy to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
For individuals and organizations outside the Philippines, write letters of concern to your embassies in the Philippines
Assist our fundraising for legal assistance, communication gadgets to set up alarm systems and hotline for quick reaction teams in cases of emergency, sanctuary/relocation of human rights defenders at risk, information and education campaign, psycho-social and medical support to human rights victims and their families, other necessary support to families of victims, human rights training for community leaders so that they can help in the campaign. For financial support, please contact the Cordillera Peoples Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights
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KARAPATAN is an alliance of human rights organizations and programs, human rights desks and committees of people’s organizations, and individual advocates committed to the defense and promotion of people’s rights and civil liberties. It monitors and documents cases of human rights violations, assists and defends victims and conducts education, training and campaign.